How God Rescued Me (May-Jun 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Terrill Hall
May – June, 2005

I was a kid who was passed around from one relative to another, no father in sight and you guessed it, a single black mom raising my brothers and me on her own. I know what it’s like to live on welfare and on the streets. My childhood playground was in neighborhoods the middle and upper classes always avoided.

I don’t remember many things about my childhood—have I blocked some things out? I will share with you a few things I can remember and where God has brought me. My two brothers and I (each of us fathered by a different man) were raised on the North city side of St. Louis, Missouri by our mother. In my early years, at times, I was sent to live with my great great aunts. Because of her bad experiences with men, my mother swore off men and lived a lesbian lifestyle. For a while, she was in a relationship with a girlfriend who actually brought some stability to our lives. I tell you this to set up the roller coaster ride that became my life.

My mother’s girlfriend was violently raped and murdered, and this sent my mother into a complete depression and downward spiral. She lost all happiness and motivation for life, and she began to drink and do drugs. When I was just eight years old, she would leave me home with my two little brothers for hours at a time while she went out. This went on for about two years and her face and body started to change. She was losing a lot of weight and she complained that her stomach always hurt.

I remember as a young kid, that I understood what my mother was doing to herself better than she did. She continued to drink and finally could not hold down a job and went on welfare. I spent a lot of time angry and frustrated. Why were the three of us given such a bad mother? Why did I have to be the one to ask people for money to feed my little brothers and me? I could not understand why my mother never had money to pay for field trips and sack lunches for school outings. She got a check and food stamps every month, but for some reason we never had any money. I had a lot of pent up anger and frustration because I saw kids around me at church, school, and the neighborhood have most of their needs and wants taken care of, yet we sometimes did not have the basics. I also longed to be a kid and not have the responsibility of an adult at twelve years old.

Even though my mother lived as a lesbian I never thought anything about it because that was how it had always been. No one in my family ever said anything about her lesbian lifestyle—they only talked about her drug addiction, so that is what I grew to dislike the most. Because of her addictions she never had any money and eventually we were kicked out of our house, and we moved from place to place. I remember one time that we were living above a store and there was no electricity or running water in the apartment. My brothers and I would go to the local food pantry for food some days because we could not find our mother. There were other times that we would find her beaten up because someone had caught her trying to steal money, drugs, or alcohol from them.

Ironically, during this entire time my mother always said God is good and to look to him. This made no sense to me. The only God that I had really heard about was the “God stuff” that I had learned from going to the Kingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witnesses) with my great great aunts. I remember being taught that God had already chosen the ones that were going to heaven and, unfortunately, I did not have the mark in order to get in.

Another problem that I found with my mother’s statements was my predicament: God had not done anything for me. My brothers and I were moving from one bad situation to another and this “God” she said was good, was doing nothing to help us. We had a mother that could not take care of three kids and was addicted to things that were ruining our lives, but we were supposed to “look to God” because she said he was good? I lived with bitterness toward God and a lack of trust that he would be of any help to me.

At one point, I had some hope because my mother got sick enough that she was hospitalized, and after getting out of the hospital, she seemed to be a lot better. She had gotten a place for us to live and she seemed to be gaining her weight back and to be doing really well. This did not last for very long because her addictions were so embedded and plenty of people helped her fall back into her old ways. For the short time we were settled, she met a guy name Craig Piper who was the local scoutmaster. My mother made the three of us join the Boy Scouts because she did not want us in trouble and she wanted to show us an alternative to her lifestyle. While I was in the troop I began to go to Mid County Church of Christ with Craig Piper. This group of people was totally different then the last place I had gone to experience this “God thing.” These people seemed to want to know us and seemed to genuinely love us.

Craig spent a lot of time studying the Bible with each one of us and showing us the love of Jesus through everything that he did. Before my 13th birthday I understood what my mother meant when she would tell us, “look to God” and “lean on the Lord.” I decided I needed give this Christianity thing a try. I was baptized on April 23, 1992. Once I became a Christian I felt a new kind of responsibility in life, so I would get my brothers and myself ready for school most mornings. I would also come home and we would make dinner together. This was my life during the school year because my mother was either too sick or doped up to care for us. During this time my brothers and I kept going to scouts and church. It was our refuge from our home life.

Once school was over I would spend a lot of my summer months at Camp Ne-o-tez in Missouri. This was the place where my brothers and I could go to have some structure and fun in our lives. So for the next five years I spent almost every summer working at camp. During this same time in my life, a young married couple, Mark and Sarah Buehrer, started attending my church, and they really loved helping with the teens of the church. They had been trying to have kids and God had not blessed them yet, so they poured a lot of their energy into “Craig’s boys” as we were known. They would have us over for Bible studies, and they taught some of our teen classes. They knew a lot about my situation, so they would invite my brothers and I over for weekends. They modeled to us what a family could look like.

In 1996 after spending six weeks at camp again that year I received a phone call from the Buehrers telling me that I needed to pack my stuff and I was coming to live with them. Throughout the summer they had been talking to my mom and she agreed to let them become my legal guardians. This was life altering for me. This couple wanted me as their son. It was even more special for me because they were finally blessed with their own children, a son and a set of twins.

With the help of the Buehrers, I graduated from high school in 1999 and went to Rochester College in Michigan, and I graduated from there in 2003. I am now working as the Assistant Dean of Students at Rochester College, and I find that my childhood experiences are an asset to the work that I do with college students.

In Jeremiah 1:5, God tells Jeremiah that he knew him in the womb and he was set apart. I know that I could feel sorry for myself that my childhood was harder than some people experience, but I choose, instead to feel that I am set apart. I can honestly say that I know God, that I now “look to God and lean on him,” as my mother used to say, that God has and continues to do amazing things in my life. Instead of feeling that I’ve been scarred by life, I feel that God has refined me for his purpose. My experiences in the past have been redeemed for my future as a man of God. And, I hope to be a part of passing on the story of redemption to others throughout my life.
New Wineskins

Terrill HallTerrill Hall is Assistant Dean of Students for Campus Life at Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He graduated from Rochester College in December 2003 with a degree in Business Management and began working for Rochester College in January of 2004. He lives in Auburn Hills, Michigan and worships at Rochester Church of Christ. Terrill enjoys watching movies, hanging out with friends, and cheering on the St. Louis Cardinals.

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About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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